Opinion: Democrats, don’t cave to Republicans on immigration

A group of migrants are processed by Border Patrol after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 4 outside Eagle Pass, Texas.

A group of migrants are processed by Border Patrol after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 4 outside Eagle Pass, Texas. Sergio Flores/ AFP/ Getty Images/ TNS


Published: 02-26-2024 6:30 AM

Jonathan P. Baird lives in Wilmot.

The bipartisan border deal that the Republicans ultimately walked away from on orders from Donald Trump was a Stephen Miller wish list. It embodied a number of terrible, cruel ideas. Yet, the Democrats promoted this bill as a clever compromise that would supposedly take away the issue of immigration from Donald Trump and the Republicans.

You have to ask: why are the Democrats agreeing to the most repressive Republican ideas? Isn’t the role of the Democrats to propose a moral alternative that doesn’t betray vulnerable immigrant populations? In this instance, the Democrats were following the old Clintonian triangulation playbook. They were trying to be tougher than the Republicans, something they will never be able to do. The Republicans will always out-fascist them.

A few years back the Democrats were horrified by children in cages and the brutality and ugliness of family separation. They supported Dreamers and a pathway to citizenship. They argued for a humane asylum process based on individualized determinations and due process. Now all that is gone.

In an effort to remove immigration as an issue the Republicans can use against Democrats this fall, the Democrats have forsaken their old views and adopted Trump’s position. How phony and inauthentic! And it will never work.

The border deal would have doubled ICE’s budget. It would have greatly expanded detention capacity with $3 billion more for increased detentions. It would have required asylum seekers to show greater proof to seek refuge in the U.S. and it would have introduced a new process that would have allowed the immigration service to decide asylum claims without going through the immigration court system.

It would have given the Department of Homeland Security the authority to shutter the border if daily illegal encounters topped 4,000 migrants a day for a week. During such shutdowns, the government would have the authority to perform many quick deportations. The bill would have required the Biden administration to use money already laid out for border barriers on a Trump-type fence which was supposed to be 18 to 30 feet high with “anti-dig” and “anti-climb” features.

There’s no doubt immigration is an enormously challenging issue. The number of immigrants seeking entry into the United States is staggering and federal resources have been very insufficiently allocated to ease the burden on many locales. Fox News and other far-right news outlets that ruthlessly demagogue the issue and scare the hell out of the public make things much worse.

That said, there is still a split screen reality. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the surge in immigration has been a $7 trillion gift to the economy including to federal tax coffers. On 60 Minutes, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell said: “...the U.S. economy has benefited from immigration. And finally, just in the last year a big part of the story of the labor market coming back into better balance is immigration returning to levels that were typical of the pre-pandemic era.”

The increase in working-age immigrants helped to offset the retirement of baby boomers. The labor shortage in America has been real. Immigrants, whether they are working in agriculture picking fruit, working in industrial or meat-packing jobs or doing needed care-taking of disabled or elderly people are filling jobs that would otherwise not be filled.

People who say immigrants are stealing jobs could not be more wrong. Immigrant workers are doing the jobs other workers will not do. Fruit would be rotting on trees and vines without immigrant workers doing that work.

It was sickening to see New Hampshire Democrats going along with Governor Sununu’s stunt of sending New Hampshire National Guard troops to the southern border. Sununu is just playing the usual Republican game of associating immigrants with crime. The idea that illegal immigrants threaten New Hampshire is ridiculous.

The fear and panic promoted by Republicans and their media tools tie into a long scare-mongering racist tradition in American history. Vilification of brown-skinned immigrants is nothing new. Over 100 years ago writers like Madison Grant, author of “The Passing of the Great Race,” and Lothrop Stoddard, author of “The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy,” more directly made the white supremacist case.

These racist American authors later inspired the Nazis in Germany. They openly advocated extreme limitation of immigration and their writing helped to lead to the very restrictive Immigration Act of 1924. The law legitimized xenophobia. It worked hand in hand with Jim Crow segregation.

The early 20th-century racist politicians made the same arguments opponents of immigration make now. Then they claimed Jewish refugees would take jobs away from worthy Americans. Now they claim it is Latinos from Central America.

It is not surprising that Republicans embrace Donald Trump’s racist brand of immigration restrictionism but there is no excuse for Democrats to reinforce xenophobia and racism as they did with the border bill fiasco. Are Democrats even talking to immigration rights activists now? They don’t talk about the human suffering going along with the Republicans will cause.

According to the United Nations, the U.S. southern border is the most violent migration border crossing in the world. Over 700 died in 2023 trying to cross and that is likely an underestimate. Our nation has the resources to have a far more humane immigration policy that greatly decreases the violence and death.

Trump is promising that if he is reelected he will pursue “the largest domestic deportation operation in history.” According to an article in the Atlantic by Ronald Brownstein, Trump plans to requisition National Guard troops from red states and deploy them into Democratic-run cities and states to act like a Gestapo. Stephen Miller says that he would seek to remove 10 million people.

The Democrats should have no part in these vicious schemes. Instead of collaborating, they should be calling out the implicit fascism. Adopting cruelty and blaming immigrants will not win Democrats any election. It will turn off and alienate a critical part of the Democratic base, young people and minorities. Just a commitment to lessening human suffering would be a better approach.